Stop cloud sprawl: How schools can take control of their AWS usage

 In AWS, Cloud

The school year ends with the same routines: end-of-year grades, final projects, and the tantalizing thought of summer vacation. But in the rush of the final days of school, some things can go overlooked, and some can cost you money all summer long.

The cloud is one. Due to its pay-what-you-use model, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has become a major cloud provider to schools across the country, offering an affordable way for school districts to introduce labs, sandboxes, and over 500 other services into the classroom.

But if you don’t keep a close eye on who’s using what, instances can run all summer—or longer—leading to a phenomenon known as “cloud sprawl.” If you don’t get it under control, it can compound itself with every semester and school year, ballooning your cloud spend on resources no one is using.

How does cloud sprawl begin and what can you do about it? Read on.

How cloud sprawl creeps up on schools and universities

Cloud sprawl is best defined as an increasing and unnecessary monthly spend that slowly eats away at your IT budget. It often happens at schools—both at the K-12 and college levels—when projects are left on pause, or simply completed and forgotten about, long after classes have ended.

Sometimes this is the result of misunderstandings about how AWS accounts and the cloud actually work. Some assume that there will be a timeout if certain functions aren’t accessed for a long enough time, but this isn’t true—Amazon will continue to charge based on what you purchased, even if you’re not accessing certain accounts or projects anymore.

But often, projects are just out of sight and out of mind. Students are eager to get out the door on break and neglect to shut down their sandbox. Teachers busy submitting grades might not think about the future of their students’ AWS use. IT admins are lucky to be in the loop and know the instances exist at all.

Even if admins are aware of the different AWS instances running, they struggle to tell which projects are needed and which aren’t. They often labor to identify what is running, why it’s running, what data is processed, and what can be safely stopped.

Cutting down on cloud sprawl

The best way to stop cloud sprawl is to prevent it from happening in the first place. The transition to the cloud can often be a challenge even for those practiced in IT—it simply runs much differently than an on-premises system does. But by optimizing your setup from the start, you can keep your cloud use in check.

It’s important to maintain governance and keep open lines of communication among the various academic departments, your IT team, and whoever is in charge of finances. Interpreting how AWS charges you, where the money is coming from, and which departments are in charge of what accounts can be extremely frustrating. But reading, dividing, and managing the complicated breakdown of services and payments is what minimizes sprawl.

Creating these lines of communication can help you gain greater visibility into usage and spend, enabling performance monitoring and rightsizing, which can inform insights on system architecture. The sooner you start gathering these insights, the more money you’ll save and the better your cloud usage will fit your institution.

Services here to help

To combat the worst parts of cloud sprawl, the best strategies are to optimize your AWS from the outset, and find someone who is well versed in the billing and licensing that comes along with its services.

SHI, for example, offers a variety of options, including our Essential (ES2), Optimization (OS2), and Infrastructure (IS2) services, to help manage your AWS services and to minimize your risk of cloud sprawl, among other benefits. The Illinois Public Higher Education Cooperative and the Houston Independent School District are two education institutions we’re already helping. Passing the responsibility of minimizing cloud sprawl to practiced professionals gives you all the benefits of AWS, without the confusion that can come along with it.

The larger your institution, the more complicated AWS can become to manage, especially when you don’t have visibility into all the usage. By introducing a team or service that provides full understanding of AWS and its offerings, you can halt cloud sprawl making sure that you don’t keep the meter running on accounts that aren’t being used. Contact your SHI account executive for more information.

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